Posted 29th August 2012 | 9 Comments
Battle lines drawn over West Coast petitions
LESS THAN 24 hours after Virgin Trains announced that it had begun court proceedings against the Department for Transport opposing the award of the £5.5 billion West Coast franchise to FirstGroup, a new online e-Petition backing the DfT's decision has been launched.
It says: "We the undersigned urge the government not to reconsider the decision to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup," and then sets out some of the features of the new franchise, which include 11 new trains as well as through London services for towns such as Blackpool and Shrewsbury.
More than 150,000 people have already signed an e-Petition calling for the award of the franchise to FirstGroup to be changed in favour of Virgin. The company came second in the contest for the 13 year 4 month contract, having bid £700 million less at net present value.
The decision was questioned not only by Virgin but also the Commons Transport Committee, whose chairman Louise Ellman called for the final sign-off, which could have taken place today, to be delayed.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has also expressed concern, saying it wants to examine the Department's methods of evaluating bids, but stopped short of wanting the sign-off to be put on hold.
Virgin founder Richard Branson said his company was taking the matter to the High Court because 40 questions from Virgin about the successful bid had not been answered by the DfT.
He said: "All we are saying is that these same civil servants got their maths wrong with National Express and GNER, we're absolutely convinced they've got their maths wrong with FirstGroup.
"Rather than give up the fight as we did on the East Coast Main Line, we're going to fight, and if at the end we're proven wrong we'll bow out gracefully."
The transport secretary Justine Greening is maintaining that the choice of FirstGroup was the best option for taxpayers and passengers, and said she was 'disappointed', adding that the Department's decision would be defended 'robustly'.
Meanwhile First said it was continuing to prepare for a handover of West Coast as scheduled on 9 December.
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